Some Criminally Good Scholarship

Infinite Earths, an online journal that unpacks popular culture in a variety of ways, has published a special issue on Nordic Noir and the Scandinavian Invasion, focused on the impact Nordic crime dramas has had on Anglophone culture and what makes Nordic noir tick. There are four articles in the issue:

My thanks to Brownen Thomas of the Digital Reading Network who pointed the issue out to me.

Second, Taylor & Francis, one of the giant commercial publishers of scholarly work provided freely by scholars in exchange for organizing the free labor of peer reviewing, adding some copyediting and layout, then distributing to the academic libraries that can afford it and who promise not to let it travel beyond the library’s digital walled garden, has given a collection of articles on crime fiction a temporary release. They will return to serve out their life sentence at the end of the year, so read them while you can.*

Routledge Crime Fiction Collection

Articles address craft, genre, gender, historical crime fiction, and world crime fiction. Though not focused on Scandinavia, it’s very interesting stuff. I was particularly blown away by Margie Orford’s essay, “The Grammar of Violence: Writing Crime as Fiction.

*Sorry if I sound ungrateful. but I get frustrated when all of this valuable work is generally available to so few in order to support T&F’s 35% profit margin.

 

Sleepless in Scotland

For those of you lucky enough to be in Edinburgh on the shortest night of the year, you really should investigate this interesting event that is part of the 66th Edinburgh International Film Festival. Those Scots sure love their festivals, and this young collective seems to know how to have a film festival event that’s both intellectual and fun.

Here’s the press release; sorry if I got envy all over it.

===

Midnight Sun featuring Insomnia is a special event which celebrates Nordic and Scottish crime in its dialogue between Scotland and Scandinavia, as well as literature and film. Developed as an applied Master’s thesis project by Peek Cinema, a team from the award-winning MSc Film in the Public Space programme at the University of Edinburgh, Midnight Sun is a rare event which sees the Edinburgh International Film Festival collaborate with post-graduate students in the programming of their 66th festival.

On Thursday 21st June Midnight Sun will take full advantage of the summer solstice in order to delve deeper into the contemporary fascination with Nordic noir within a Scottish context. Proceedings begin with a drinks reception at the Point Hotel’s Sky Bar at 8pm, where guests will be able to enjoy drinks and complimentary Scandinavian canapés surrounded by the panoramic views of Edinburgh’s own monumental skyline. The event will be introduced by Scottish crime writer Lin Anderson, who will whet the audience’s appetite for a screening of moody Norwegian noir Insomnia by addressing the theme of landscape and the use of light and dark in crime fiction, as well as drawing comparisons and contrasts between Scottish and Scandinavian traditions, in addition to discussing the relationship between noir film and literature.

As the sun slowly sets in the Sky Bar, the audience will cross Lothian Road to the Filmhouse for a screening of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 feature Insomnia at 10.25pm. Overturning the typical darkness characteristic of noir genres, Insomnia moves away from the traditional association of Scandinavian crime fiction with short days and minimal light, using instead the sun-drenched summer nights near the Arctic Circle as the backdrop for its detective story. Stellan Skarsgård stars as Jonas Engström, a Swedish police detective sent to a remote Norwegian village to investigate the murder of a young woman. As the investigation progresses, the lines between perpetrator and victim become blurred, raising difficult questions about human nature and the capacity for evil. With the incessant midnight sun afflicting its protagonist, Insomnia illustrates the centrality of landscape to noir narratives, portraying environment almost as a character in and of itself.

Lin Anderson:

Lin Anderson is one of Scotland’s leading crime writers and an active screenwriter, whose new addition to her popular Rhona MacLeod series, Picture Her Dead, comes out in paperback on the day of the event. Copies of the book will also be available to purchase and have signed on the night.

Peek Cinema:
Comprising Cosima Amelang, Parissima Darabiha, Emma Fyvie, Maija Hietala and Susanne Scherer, the Edinburgh-based collective met whilst studying on the award-winning MSc Film in the Public Space course at the University of Edinburgh under the tutelage of Susan Kemp and Jane Sillars. Hailing from the US, France, Scotland, Finland and Germany respectively, the group’s ethos to create new and exciting modes of film exhibition is born from a broad and eclectic range of individual experiences in the arts industry.

Programme Details

Thurs 21st June. 8pm @ Sky Bar, Point Hotel
Midnight Sun drinks reception with an introduction by crime writer Lin Anderson.
10.25pm Filmhouse 2, Filmhouse Cinema
Screening of Insomnia (1997)

Links:

Midnight Sun on the official Edinburgh International Film Festival website: www.edfilmfest.org.uk/films/2012/insomnia

Official Website: www.peekcinema.com

====
If you’re wondering whether this is going actually be as entertaining as it sounds, here’s a bit of evidence from an event the group organized previously, and there are more bits on their website . . .

… but I’m going to post this and go sulk because I won’t be there. (But a word to the wise – if you haven’t seen the original Insomnia, you really should, even if you watch it from your living room couch.)

Nordic, like the Netherlands

Maureen Corrigan annexes the Netherlands as part of the Nordic world and ponders the stylistic difference between the Martin Beck series and the Millennium Trilogy.

The Independent has a story on how publishing Stieg Larsson’s trilogy moved Quercus from small publisher to major player.

Peter raves about the fifth Annika Bengtzon mystery by Liza Marklund, Red Wolf. It sounds quite action-packed.

Maxine offers a tour of her favorite Swedish haunts, which are numerous, along with a handy listing of her reviews of books from that country.

She also reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Inspector and Silence and thinks it’s excellent, though it sounds relatively pensive as the hero contemplates doing anything but the frustrating work of detecting.

At last! Martin Edwards had teased us by mentioning an intriguing little book on the Swedish crime story. He has now returned with a report. The first Swedish crime story was by Prins Pirre in 1893; early practitioners studied Doyle, Poe, and Christie; and the author of the small tome, Bo Lundin, divides the newer folks (up to 1980) into those afflicted with “the Trenter Syndrome” (those like Stieg Trenter, a writer who used Stockholm as a backdrop) and “the ulcer syndrome” for books that, like Martin Beck, suffer from the disappointments of modern life. Thanks for the report, Martin, and may we all enjoy the ulcer syndrome without any troublesome symptoms.

Though it’s a bit BSP-ish to link to this article I wrote for Spinetinger, the closing paragraphs deal with why I think Stieg Larsson has taken a worn-out trope – violence against women – and handled it in an unusually affirming way.

the next Stieg Larsson

Norm (aka Uriah) gets annoyed when the only criterion used for predicting the “next Stieg Larsson” is that the author is Swedish. Harrumph. But he does have some female authors to recommend.

There’s likely to be a lot of marketing that hinges on “the next Stieg Larsson” given that the original Stieg Larsson has had such an impact on the book industry. The Washington Post points out there are already many incredibly popular writers from Sweden and Norway, though most of them are arriving late to US shores. The feature starts out with a nice hook:

So you know about the insanely popular Scandinavian crime novelist, right, the author who has sold 3 million books in Sweden (pop. 9 million)? The one published in 40 languages? The crime-writing legend with more than 30 million books in print worldwide?

If you said the late Stieg Larsson, the publishing phenom who has sold more than 500,000 copies of his latest book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” in the month since it was released, who currently has the No. 1 book in hardcover fiction, trade paperback and mass-market paperback — well, get a clue.

Camilla Läckberg is the Swedish crime writer whose seven books have dominated Stockholm bestseller lists (she makes her American debut this week). Norwegian Jo Nesbø is the guy published in 40 languages. And Sweden’s Henning Mankell, the godfather of the Swedish crime thriller genre, has been moving millions of books the world over since creating police detective Kurt Wallander nearly two decades ago.

The New York Times also comments on the “what should I read / publish / get excited about next?” question when readers have finished Hornet’s / Hornets’ Nest.

“We call them ‘The Girl Who’s Paying Our Salaries for the Next Few Months,’ ” said Gerry Donaghy, the new-book purchasing supervisor [at Powell’s].

But other customers are walking through the door, finished with all three books and pleading for something similar.

Which has given some booksellers pause. Mr. Larsson’s books have caught on because of their ambitious scope, complex characters, strong writing and quick storytelling, said Cathy Langer, the lead buyer for the Tattered Cover stores in Denver — maybe not because of their Scandinavian setting.

“It’s a tricky line to walk,” Ms. Langer said. “I’d probably ask them if they’d read any Henning Mankell. But if you try to duplicate the experience, you’re likely to disappoint the customer.”

Good call, Ms. Langer! Norm would approve.

The Book Maven writes about the impact the Washington Post article was already having on book buyers (as well as “How could they not have mentioned Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo?” – an omission mentioned also by Roberta at Books to the Ceiling) and how she enjoyed Camilla Lackberg’s first foray in the US (with The Ice Princess) with some reservations.

Maureen Corrigan at NPR says “let’s take a brief mental health break from those gloomy Swedes with their hard-to-pronounce-names” and recommends non-Scandinavian mysteries – but then breaks down and puts Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing on the list, because “no roundup of recent standout mysteries would be complete without Henning Mankell’s masterpiece of moral complexity.”

Mankell’s latest tale roams from a remote Swedish village turned necropolis to the American West of the 19th century, where Chinese indentured servants hacked through mountains to clear the way for the Transcontinental Railroad. In between are stops in modern-day Beijing and London, as well as Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The thread connecting these disparate narratives is red, drenched in the blood of historical crimes and baroque retribution.

At The Australian, book reviewer Graeme Blundell takes a longer view, using Stieg Larsson’s success as a hook. Crime fiction has gained enormous popularity since he started reviewing, but there’s “mayhem in the mainstream” as public tastes turn to new favorites that can’t be predicted in advance. He traces the rise of the genre (along lines very similar to Patrick Anderson’s book The Triumph of the Thriller) as it stormed the bestseller lists.

A generation ago, crime writing was a minority taste, for many a puritan pleasure, not always admitted to in public; reading mysteries was a sabbatical for the serious-minded. The blockbusters of the ’60s and ’70s, for example, the novels of Irving Stone, Harold Robbins, John O’Hara, Jacqueline Susann and Herman Wouk, preferred to deal with sex, movie stars, religion and exotic foreign places rather than crime. Robert Crichton, Mary Renault, James Clavell were among those who followed and still no big time crime. Best-seller lists were subjugated by literary writers and masters of sex and junk. . . .

Crime novels were still largely written for the entertainment of the reader rather than for the sake of what the writer had to say or any social commentary. The best were about puzzle, riddle or place. Few novels threatened our complacency by deliberately exploiting anxiety in the reader and tapping into familiar criminal concerns the way the genre as a whole does now. “Even a decade ago people were apprehensive about publishing crime fiction,” Hachette Australia publisher Bernadette Foley says. “While crime fiction is based on well-knitted plots, astute storytelling and interesting ideas, they simply weren’t as prestigious as literary fiction. In the past, if you published crime you pretended you didn’t.”

Then it changed. Genres split in all directions as the world rapidly shrank with the process of globalisation, the movement of capital and the spread of technological innovations and ever-faster communications. . . .

And the rest is history. Peter Temple has just won Australia’s Miles Franklin award, the most prestigious award for fiction. Fiction, full stop. Well done, Australia!

If you’re wondering what to read next, you could read Temple’s Truth; otherwise, here are a few reviews to pique your interest:

Happy reading!

reviews and resolutions

Karen reviews Death in Oslo by Anne Holt at that magnificent site, Euro Crime. It sounds good, in spite of a somewhat annoying lead character and one plot-driven bit of mind-lapse. “My enjoyment of this series increases with every book and I hope the fourth book, now out in Norwegian, will reach us in English soon” Karen writes. “Also the intriguing character of Hanne Wilhelmsen has a fairly large role in this book and it would be lovely if the other books featuring her were to be translated into English at some point.” I’ll second that. She sounds much more interesting than another (yawn) profiler.

Bernadette points out an article in the mainstream press on 2009’s “bumper crop of crime fiction.” The author has good taste and highlights both Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer and Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire. However his taste, sadly, is not matched by a grasp of geography. Back to the fourth grade for you.

Melanie whose blog is titled “It’s a Mystery … What I Should Read Next” knows one book she’s going to read as soon as possible: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. She may be standing in line a la Harry Potter the day of the release in the US. Maybe she’ll have company outside the bookstore.

The Independent takes a look at the television versions of the Wallander books and their appeal – as well as the differences between the Swedish and BBC productions.

BBC4’s decision to broadcast several episodes of the hit Swedish Wallander series has given British audiences the chance to compare and contrast Wallanders. How does the original, local, Swedish series stand up to the award-winning detective dramas starring Kenneth Branagh?

“They are quite different,” the series’ Swedish producer Ole Sondberg says. “Where they’re really different is that Branagh really focused on the dark side of the character, whereas if you see the Swedish series, we are trying to achieve more humour, more lightness, We were very afraid that the character would be too dark.”

So the Swedes are not so gloomy after all! Yet in spite of different approaches, theses popular crime stories transcend borders.

Audiences in Sweden, Britain and elsewhere, respond to Wallander because he does seem such a vulnerable and grounded figure. He is a middle-aged man whose life is always at risk of falling apart. The detective is estranged from his wife and has a tempestuous relationship with both his daughter and his elderly father.

In the wake of the success of the Wallander TV dramas and of the Stieg Larsson film adaptation, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (made by the same production company), there has been much speculation about why the world is currently so obsessed with Scandinavian crime fiction. Is it the light? Is it the long winters, or the tendency toward introspection? Is it the interior design?

The irony, as far as Ole Sondberg is concerned, is that, in the Swedish Wallander, there has been a self-conscious attempt to introduce more humour and to escape from the stereotype of gloomy Swedes. He suggests that the two series work best in very different markets. For example, the US has no interest in the Swedish Wallander whereas the much darker Branagh version has done extremely well with American audiences.

Arguably, the success of the Mankell and Larsson books isn’t really to do with Sweden at all. The themes and characters have a universality of appeal.

Though a small correction: some cable channels are running the Swedish version, as Glenn Harper can attest – he’s been reviewing Norwegian and Swedish television adaptations at International Crime Fiction. Jut not my cable provider. (Sniff.)

Finally, have you made you new year’s resolutions yet? No fear, it’s not too late to join Dorte’s Global Reading Challenge.

mixed metaphors Saturday

The Cricketing Librarian has been reading Scandinavian crime lately – giving an eloquent thumbs-up to Stieg Larsson, Johan Theorin, Arnaldur Indridason, and (not Scandinavian, but also recommended) Colin Cotterill.  Well played, sir.

Placelogohere at Live Journal makes note of the popularity of Scandinavian mysteries, but he (or she?) thinks Stieg Larsson’s trilogy is overrated, not matching Mankell’s subtlety. I prescribe equal parts Fossum, Alvtegen, Arnaldur, and Liffner if you want to increase your subtlety intake.

Bernadette in Oz reacts to Asa Larsson’s The Black Path. Whenever I hear about the death of professional book reviewing, I am comforted that people like Bernadette are the future. You can’t tell me any paid reviewer does a better job than she does. Or if you did, I would assume your logic board needed replacing.

Mike Shatzkin who is bullish on e-books makes some predictions for the near future. The one I agree with is “In the digital world, geographical territories will be found not to make much sense.” That’s already true for the reader and has been for years. My reading communities are without borders, and when I want to buy a book, those borders won’t stop me. (Thank you, Bookdepository!) Unfortunately, what makes sense and what corporations actually do rarely seem to coincide. Where once we had to choose between Beta and VHS, we now have one kind of DVD – but five regional codes to restrict the flow of those DVDs across borders. Somehow globalization gets all local when it comes to making money. So we have millions of workers having to leave home to survive because their local economy has been “globalized,” but unable to do so legally because their work permits have not been globalized. (I’m not sure how this works in the EU, but in the Americas, free trade has made a ginormous mess of things. By the way, I moderate comments so don’t bother going all Lou Dobbs on me.) While readership is increasingly global, and hallelujah for that, the corporations are trying to find ways to induce artificial regional scarcity. Thus doth craven commerce make pirates of us all.

By the way CNN is sounding the alarm on book “piracy”. The odd thing is, when I first started putting together a website on Scandinavian crime fiction, a lot of popular Swedish and Norwegian authors didn’t have websites. Maybe it’s a Scandinavian thing. People are modest. The first links that would come in a search were torrent sites. This does not appear to have destroyed the market for their books. William Patry challenges the whole rhetoric of this (and points out that both the film industry and the music industry are making plenty of money in spite of missteps and “piracy”) in a really interesting book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, which I reviewed elsewhere.

I will now descend from my soapbox. As you were.

photo plucked from the Creative Commons pool at Flickr happens to be (!!) courtesy of swanksalot, a favorite Flickr contact of mine. In fact, one of his photos is going to be on the cover of my next book. How’s that for weird synchronicity?

reviews and views

Still catching up . . .

Marilyn Stasio reviews Box 21 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom and finds it “a movie trapped in a book” – given the drama as a badly abused woman takes hostages in a hospital – but concludes “for all their cinematic hyperbole, the authors don’t contribute to any further degradation of Lydia, who makes a believably tragic model for all the real women exploited by human traffickers.” She seems as puzzled as I was that no credit is given for the translator.

Michael Carlson’s irresistible target is The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo, not flawless but very good indeed:

Nesbo has created one of the great detectives in Harry Hole, and what is most impressive is the way he’s able to make Hole seem like a different person as he’s reflected in the actions and vision of various characters. He is a sympathetic character who rarely asks for sympathy, a Wallander with a touch of Marlowe’s idealism, and a hidden resevoir of white knight charm. And Nesbo is very happy to work on complicated plots and old-fashioned, if un-traditional clues.

Maxine reviews Inger Frimansson’s Good Night, My Darling at Euro Crime – which she finds atmospheric, gripping, and haunting. She also, in her Petrona incarnation, finds Gunnar Staalesen’s The Consorts of Death, very good indeed. “As with the best of PI and other crime fiction, the appeal of the Varg Veum books is not only their plots and the gradual development through the protagonist’s life and times, but their sadness at the human condition, a strong sense of social justice, and their wonderful sense of place.” The review in the Independent would seem to agree.

The Guardian thinks Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer is too long. I think the review is too short – barely over 100 words. What’s the point? Why not just tweet your feelings? No wonder book reviewing the “proper” way is going to the dogs.

The Economist reads the Millennium Trilogy and advises that we “don’t mess with her” – the “her,” of course, being Lisbeth Salander, a character who is the “most original heroine in many years.”

The trilogy’s success shows that complex characters, a fast-paced narrative and a dazzling mosaic of challenging plots and sub-plots can keep readers hooked. The books are long and profoundly political. The sinister conspiracy being played out in the dark reaches of the Swedish security services is an important ingredient in the alchemy that has made the books so successful. Swedish writers have extensively explored the frail heart of the Scandinavian social-democratic dream; Stieg Larsson’s cynical realpolitik carries him from the cold war to the present-day murder of inconvenient witnesses. . . .

Larsson’s knowledge of the inner workings of the Swedish police, intelligence service and private security companies bring an extra layer of texture and verisimilitude. There are occasional lapses into didacticism: Blomkvist probes the murky world of female sex-trafficking which readers already know is an evil and sordid business. There are also some wildly dramatic incidents—at the end of the second volume and the start of the third, for instance—that stretch credibility to the limit. But Larsson’s vivid characters, the depth of detail across the three books, the powerfully imaginative plot and the sheer verve of the writing make “The Millennium Trilogy” a masterpiece of its genre.

Glenn Harper of International Noir Fiction on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – “I’d still argue that the 10-volume Sjöwall/Wahlöö opus remains the pinnacle of Swedish crime, but Larsson puts his very individual stamp on the genre and also brings the form into the 21st century’s criminal, information, and political environment.”

Brought to you by the Letter D: Maxine highlights Danish author Lief Davidsen in her “alphabet in crime fiction.”

And now on to various opinions and thoughts about the genre….

Lots of kerfuffle about Jessica Mann’s decision as a reviewer to avoid misogynistic paint-by-numbers violence, peculiarly reported in the press as a decision to abandon book reviewing altogether or as an indictment of the entire genre – none of which is true, if you actually read her essay.  The F-Word, a British Feminist publication offers a lengthy discussion of why Stieg Larsson, professions of being a feminist notwithstanding, is actually a mysogynist because of “his explicit descriptions of sexual violence, his breast-obsessed heroine and babe-magnet hero.” I’ll grant you the babe-magnet Blomqvist being a bit of wishful projection, perhaps, but writing about violence against women doesn’t mean you actually enjoy it. I think Melanie Newman is off-base to compare the (admittedly somewhat over-the-top) gruesome sex abuse uncovered in the first book with James Patterson’s enormously popular if artless serial killer entertainments. Steve Mosby has a thoughtful (and yes, somewhat irritated) response to Newman’s article, as well as a longer examination of the wider issues which picked up quite a bit of traffic from readers of the New Yorker.

Paul Ames finds that “Sweden has Murder on its Brain.”

Within the 27 nations of the European Union, only Germany, Austria, Malta and Slovenia have lower murder rates than Sweden. In 2006 there were 91 murders registered in Sweden. In the same year, 84 crime novels were published in the country.

Peter Wahlqvist, a Goteborg-based lecturer in crime fiction, said the international success of Swedish thrillers results from a combination of good writing, a taste for the exotic and the contrast between the make-believe mayhem and common foreign perceptions of Sweden as a blond, healthy, welfare state utopia.

“It’s for real, psychologically about real people and about real life, real society,” said Wahlqvist.

Books to the Ceiling, in a series on “mysteries going global,” considers the popularity of Scandinavian crime.

And Glenn, via Petunia, has found a statue of Varg Veum leaning against the wall outside the office in Bergen where the fictional PI hung out his shingle.